ACDi’s 30th Birthday: A Reflection from the CEO

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Time slips by so quickly you lose count, days become weeks, weeks become months, and months become years. 30 years ago last month ACDi was born and to tell the truth even I am surprised. I haven’t thought about the age of the company in many years, but when I look back we should all be very proud of what we’ve built. To put this milestone into perspective, successful companies lasted an average of 67 years in the 1920’s, and they typically exist for only 15 years today. Let’s take a look at the past 30 years.

We started the company 30 years ago to provide printed circuit board design and documentation services emphasizing fast turn around. The company was located in Gaithersburg, Maryland in a small 2 level townhouse (750 sq ft). The PCB design/layout department was located in one room, and a second small room housed the large “Mini-computer”. Upstairs we had a sales person and the reception/accounting/human-resources lady, she did everything. Pat Hynes and I did all of the PCB design work and we had one person to build library shapes.

Looking back what makes the story interesting is the 1980’s technology for CAD software and computer hardware. Our first CAD system was a Racal Redac that operated on Digital Equipment Corporations’ PDP 11 mini-computer. The hardware was huge (the equivalent of stacking 2 office desks) and the software was mono-chrome and used a light-pen to interact. The other issue with the hardware was it generated enough heat that you had to run the air-conditioning year round. Considering the high system cost, we could only afford one, so we were forced to operate it around the clock. Pat would do a 12 hour shift and then I would do a 12 hour shift. In an attempt of fairness we would switch shifts every other week, virtually ensuring our bodies would never feel rested.

Our next big event was a move to an office in Germantown, Maryland (1200 sq ft) where we had a dedicated computer room with its own air conditioning, a bullpen for PCB designers and a separate room for librarians. We stayed in Germantown for another 15 years, a time of slow, controlled growth, eventually moving into a 5000 sq ft office suite. During this time we moved to Unix based hardware and also PC based hardware. We added Veribest, PADS, Cadence, Autocad, and Mentor Graphics PCB CAD systems. Also during this period we added the CCT autorouter, and this piece of software provided us with the largest productivity gains we had ever experienced. We started developing relationships with PCB Fabricators and Assembly Contract Manufacturers to provide different pieces of the prototype process.

We moved the company to Frederick, Maryland in 2001 into a historic building located in downtown (10,000 sq ft). During this time we had 5 full time designers working in Mentor, 2 working in Cadence, 1 working in Veribest, and 10 working in PADS. This was a very good time for the PCB design business and technology business in general. The internet was exploding and the number of start-up businesses was at an all-time high.

During the 2003, 2004 time frame business was flat, so we started interviewing our customers about what other services we could provide. The overwhelming response was a faster, more comprehensive solution to assembling their prototypes and low volume high-mix production. Not having any direct experience in electronics manufacturing we decided to bring these services online through acquisition. After an extensive search we acquired Patapsco Design from Circuit City Stores November 2004. Our goal was to provide quick turnarounds and to be a flexible organization to work with on the PCB assembly services, just like we had always done with the PCB design services.

Looking to expand our electronics assembly offerings we acquired Fawn Electronics from Fawn Industries in February 2012. With this acquisition we are now qualified to build Nuclear compliant products and we expanded our harness and cabling capabilities. Today we have two manufacturing plants totaling 110,000 sq. ft offering a full suite of electronic manufacturing services from circuit card assembly to complete system test and integration to product development.

I would like to thank every employee, employees’ families, and our customers for helping in our success! WE wouldn’t be successful without the help of all of you. We will continue to expand our offerings and will never stop striving to improve our current services.

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